Section: News

College shifts to Level 1, discontinues contact tracing

As of 4 p.m. yesterday, the College switched from Campus Activity Level 2 to Level 1, according to a news bulletin email from COVID-19 Steering Committee Chair Drew Kerkhoff. Additionally, the College will follow Knox Public Health’s (KPH) lead and end contact tracing for individual positive cases.  

Currently, there are four active student cases and four active employee cases, with 12 positive self-test results recorded on Feb. 7. As of Jan. 27, KPH reported 275 active cases, though it has not updated its case count for the week of Feb. 3 due to last week’s winter storm. Nationally, cases are beginning to fall as well, with the New York Times recording 194,021 new cases on Feb. 8 — a significant drop since the initial omicron surge in mid-January, which saw upwards of 900,000 new cases per day. 

Under Level 1’s baseline precautions, the College will still require masks in indoor public settings, except while eating or exercising, employees may eat in Peirce Dining Hall and events may offer food and beverages. Instead of contact tracing, Kerkhoff noted that the College will shift to focus on “more effective interventions” to protect vulnerable community members.  

These changes come as states with mask mandates plan to lift their restrictions, including New York, Rhode Island, California, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Connecticut and Illinois. Politico reported that California, in particular, is planning to adopt an “endemic strategy” — lifting all restrictions when viral rates have stabilized. According to Newsweek, Dr. Anthony Fauci expects restrictions to continue easing across the country in preparation for an endemic phase.  

In his email, Kerkhoff said that the changes were to reflect the slowed appearance of new cases on campus, as well as a decline in cases in Knox County and across Ohio. Kerkhoff also cited the College’s vaccine and booster requirement for students as a reason for the changes, noting that more than 80% of students have submitted documentation that they have received their booster. 

However, while cases may be dropping overall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the rate of community transmission remains high across over 99% of the country. Knox County, specifically, maintains a positivity rate between 10 and 15%, with a full vaccination rate of just under 42.5%. 

Additionally, these changes to Kenyon’s COVID-19 response come amid a spike in the viral levels detected in Gambier’s wastewater, with Tuesday’s sample recording 56,000 viral copies per liter. The Feb. 1 viral level was 12,000 copies per liter, and levels had been decreasing since Jan. 28. 

Mayor Leeman Kessler ’04 expressed concern about the wastewater spike on Facebook, urging community members to continue following safety measures to prevent viral spread. “Exercise caution and help us continue to take care of our community,” he wrote. 

Regarding the decision to stop contact tracing, Kerkhoff cited KPH’s guidance and contact tracing’s ineffectiveness at slowing viral spread as primary reasons. 

“Like KPH, we’ve found that, especially in light of the transmissibility of Omicron, contact tracing is a tremendous effort that does little to limit the spread of the virus,” he wrote in the news bulletin. “This shift will also allow Health Services staff to serve students more effectively across a much wider range of health issues.” 


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